The Theatreguide.London Review
Hackney Empire Spring 2014; Kiln Theatre Summer 2019
(For the 2019 run Debbie Kurup replaced Paulette Ivory.)
This all-but-plotless compilation of African-American blues classics is held together by the presence of three women – Sharon D. Clarke, Paulette Ivory and Gemma Sutton – each expressing reasons to consider all men bastards, and one man – Clive Rowe – generally admitting it.
They take turns and sometimes combine forces on more than two dozen songs ranging from the obscure and authentic to the crossover and mainstream.
There's a lot of Bessie Smith, but also Johnny Mercer's Blues In The Night and Harold Arlen's I Got A Right To Sing The Blues.
Sheldon Epps, the original compiler of the show in 1980, knew his stuff, and we get not only well-chosen classics of the genre but the full range of a mode that is more flexible and varied than many people realise.
For every my-man-treats-me-bad lament like Bessie Smith's Dirty No Gooder's Blues (Clarke) there's a more assertive you'll-be-sorry-you-bastard retort like Smith's Take It Right Back (the three women).
The depths of real unhappiness are plumbed in Ann Ronell's Willow Weep For Me (Sutton), Willard Robison's Four Walls (Rowe) and Smith's Worried Life Blues (a show-stopper by Clarke), but the other side of the blues, the raunchy life-grabbing dirty dancing affirmation, is also well represented by Andy Razaf's double-entendre-filled Kitchen Man (Clarke) and Bessie Smith's single-entendre It Makes My Love Come Down (the trio).
Clive Rowe and Sharon D. Clarke are very much the stars of the show, not only getting the best songs but making the most of them, with Paulette Ivory and especially Gemma Sutton underused.
An onstage band rocks and there are a couple of backing dancers, but the real draw of this show is the great music itself.
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Review - Blues In The Night - Hackney Empire 2014